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  • Chris McMillan

How music helps children learn

South China Morning Post

8th July 2023

How music helps children learn, and how, for children with autism, learning to play a musical instrument improves motor skills and self-expression

  • Learning a musical instrument or listening to music can boost a child’s memory and focus, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve behaviour

  • Playing a musical instrument also helps children with autism improve their awareness of emotions and their bodily needs and functions

by Anthea Rowan

Throughout history, music has been used for healing.

Recent research has shown that music may assist in a wide range of therapeutic settings, from helping to deal with anxiety and depression, to coping with cancer.

Music may also help young people learn and behave better, according to a study by the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute, which found that children who learn a musical instrument have enhanced cognitive function.

Beatriz Ilari, associate professor of music teaching and learning at the University of Southern California, was involved in the study, which followed children aged six and seven who had just started to learn music.

Their musical, social, cognitive and brain development were tracked using MRI and EEG scans, and behavioural and musical tests.

Over several years, the study howed that children involved in music exhibited higher scores in executive function – the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember, and juggle multiple tasks. They were also less hyperactive and aggressive.

Yau Wang, founder of Hong Kong’s Do Re Mi Music Therapy Centre, isn’t surprised. Listening to, or playing, music, she says, can be a positive experience. Music can be moving for those dealing with emotional trauma; it can ease and help manage frustrations, Wang says.

Wang started Do Re Mi in 2003 during the Sars outbreak in Hong Kong. At the time, she remembers, just as during the later Covid pandemic, there was uncertainty and fear of the virus.

“The stress of everyday living, not knowing what would happen from one day to the next was felt in families, not only by parents, but also children who were subjected to tension at home,” she says.

During the recent pandemic, families with special needs children, who were already dealing with stressful home lives, really suffered. It is Wang’s aim to help the most vulnerable, irrespective of age, through music therapy.

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